How Rodrigo Plá’s Fear of Not Having Medical Insurance Turned Into an Award-Winning Thriller

Rodrigo Plá’s Un monstruo de mil cabezas (A Monster with a Thousand Heads) is a thriller armed with a social message. Sonia Bonet (played by Jana Raluy), unable to get her insurance company to agree to pay for a treatment that may cure her husband’s illness, decides she has nothing to lose and, armed with a gun, spends the rest of the movie coercing those bureaucrats in charge to sign off on the necessary papers. It’s a suicidal mission, of course, but Plá’s film keeps the tension on high throughout, keeping you wondering where the plot might be headed to next. Adapted from a novel of the same name by Laura Santullo (who also happens to be Plá’s wife), the movie version also features Güeros standout Sebastián Aguirre as Sonia’s son who functions as an unlikely accomplice in their increasingly dangerous mission.

The film screened as part of Film Society of Lincoln Center’s “Neighboring Scenes” program last weekend and afterwards, the Uruguayan director sat down with Cinema Tropical’s Carlos Gutiérrez to chat. Endlessly self-deprecating (“If you like the film, spread the word. If you don’t, be discreet,” he told us prior to the movie), Plá was wildly entertaining throughout the Q&A session talking about the movie’s novelistic origins, the Mexican medical insurance situation, and his decision to cast Raluy who is making her big screen debut.

Check out some highlights below.

Jana Raluy (L), Rodrigo Pla (C), and Laura Santullo (R) AFP PHOTO / GIUSEPPE CACACE
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On How His Wife Adapted Her Novel Into a Script

“For me, the pictures start with the script, of course, but also when I start to do the casting.”

We’ve been living together for 17 years. Two kids and four films. And obviously all those four films we’ve done together. She’s a great writer. She wrote the script but as she was writing it she found some problems and then she went to the novel so she could understand better the characters. Because the novel is written in the first person. So she changes all the time, from one character to another — just like in the film — but it’s narrated in first person so you can understand what’s happening with them. You can hear their voices. The way they think. This lets you understand better each character. It’s something we tried to keep in the film. So she wrote the novel first and then the script.

On the Origins of the Story

I remember a long time ago we saw a picture called The Corporation, a Canadian film. It’s about corporations and how they work and how they are inside. At the same time, we’d just come back from Uruguay. I was born in Uruguay, lived all my life in Mexico, the same for my wife, and then for the last picture we went back to Uruguay for five years. When we came back again to Mexico, we didn’t have insurance and we had to start thinking about what to do with our lives. We have two kids. We had to decide whether to go to public assistance. Or go with private insurance, but they’re very expensive and so we, in a way, tried to put ourselves in those shoes. It comes from our own vulnerability. Of not knowing what to do if we should buy insurance.

On Casting Jana Raluy in Her First Film

“This is what’s happening right now in society. Because the state is a void. They are not there. They are just stealing, a lot.”

For me, the pictures start with the script, of course, but also when I start to make the casting. I like to make the casting myself. I have some people who help me but I start like six, seven months [before] and this way I can see the actors and the actresses. And I can feel how we can interact. It’s something I like very much.

She comes from theater. This is her first film but she has a long career in theater. Twenty years maybe. And we saw her in a piece of theater like ten or twelve years ago. And we still remember her. She was so great. So when we started the process of developing this project we searched for her in the “cartelera” and we found her. So we saw her in a piece of theater and we loved it. We loved her. And we called her and she made some proposals that we loved.

On Making a Film Set in Mexico’s Current Reality

The main thing on the picture is that it’s happening in a context without a state that rules. In the case of this woman there’s no one in between them. You have a problem with the insurance and you have to solve it by yourself. And this is what’s happening right now in society. Because the state is a void. They are not there. They are just stealing, a lot. The politicians. And so the first violent situation here begins with the state.

On Telling a Story From Different Points of View

What’s happening in all the picture is a reconstruction of what happened. It’s not what happened. It’s a reconstruction of someone, of twenty persons who are in front of trial. What we tried to do is to recreate what happened but in a subjective way because each one remembers the facts in a different way. That’s why we distorted the images. That’s why we wanted to play with reflections.

The reason is the multiplicity of visions. First, we have the feeling that telling the story with these different points of view will give more power to the main conflict. Because it won’t be my opinion and you won’t just like the main character. You will have other points of view of others who didn’t like her.

Un monstruo de mil cabezas opens in US theaters in the summer of 2016.